Supervisors make big environmental moves

Thank you, San Francisco Board of Supervisors. The City has passed and proposed some historic environmental laws to combat climate change and reduce pollution. But what about greening Uber and Lyft?

A Great Solar Achievement

Our supervisors unanimously passed legislation to mandate solar installations on new buildings. State law already requires buildings with 10 stories or less to have “solar ready” roofs — unshaded and free of obstructions. The new legislation takes state law one-step further by actually requiring panels.

But there are always critics. An article in Vox labeled the law a “modest step” and asserted increasing density would be the best way to combat climate change.

While I agree increasing density has environmental benefits, the law is not a modest step — it’s a grand leap.

According to the Department of Environment, approximately 200 projects fall under the provision of the ordinance. The local renewable power generated when these projects are constructed will significantly reduce San Franciscans’ reliance on fossil fuels. The law will also indirectly encourage developers to skip this hurdle by proposing projects over 10 stories in high-density areas.

There’s no reason to drag a great environmental achievement through the mud of our housing debate. We can increase solar and density.

“Anytime you actually do something, there will be people who criticize, nitpick and say a measure doesn’t go far enough,” Supervisor Scott Wiener, the ordinance’s sponsor, told me. “However, no large city has done this before, so this is a big step forward.”

Bye-bye, Styrofoam

The same day the board passed the new solar law, board President London Breed proposed a big step forward on The City’s path to zero waste: the country’s most extensive ban on Styrofoam. “The science is clear: this stuff is an environmental and public health pollutant, and we have to reduce its use,” she said in a statement.

Although Styrofoam can’t be recycled through The City’s blue-bin recycling collection program, San Francisco’s waste company Recology does recycle Styrofoam at its facility. But Project Manager Robert Reed admitted to me that recycling isn’t easy. Manufacturing companies that accept recycled Styrofoam have extremely high standards, and the lightweight material is almost impossible to collect without some breaking off and blowing away.

“San Francisco residents who have large pieces of Styrofoam that are very clean and dry can drop them off inside the Public Disposal Recycling Area,” Reed told me. “But the best thing would be to find a more environmental alternative.”

If Breed’s legislation passes, businesses accustomed to relying on Styrofoam would have to think outside the crumbly, white box. Reed recommended paper-based packaging, which is far easier to recycle. But whatever the alternative, I welcome the ban. Innovation is a San Francisco virtue, and bidding adieu to the harmful packaging product would be a huge win for the environment.

Greening Uber and Lyft

Unfortunately, not all the news is good. The American Lung Association released its annual “State of the Air” report last week, and the Bay Area — San Francisco, San Jose, Oakland and Stockton — was listed as one of the country’s most polluted regions. Although The City has strong air pollution policies, officials must do more to lower emissions.

“City and county leadership is so essential,” Bonnie Holmes-Gen of the American Lung Association told me. “There’s so much that needs to be done.”

What can our Board of Supervisors do next? Perhaps recognize the big, pink mustache in the room. Uber and Lyft are replacing The City’s fuel-efficient taxis with gas-powered vehicles. This clogs our roads, pollutes our air, impacts our health and challenges our climate change policies.

I’ve heard legislators in Sacramento are interested in exploring better fuel standards for Uber and Lyft. The Board of Supervisors should announce its support for environmental regulations and push Sacramento to act. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy can also add her support when she’s in The City today talking to moms about pollution’s health effects.

Robyn Purchia is an environmental attorney, environmental blogger and environmental activist who hikes, gardens and tree hugs in her spare time.

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